Neon lights at the entrance of the Lichtburg Cinema in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Lichtburg (‘fortress of light’ or ‘light castle’) has been a popular name for cinemas in Germany. The exterior of the Lichtburg in Essen was designed by municipal planner Ernst Bode in a stark New Objectivist style without surface adornment. The interior by the local company of Heydkamp und Curt Bucerius based on designs by urban architect Lothar Kaminski. The building had a 20-metre dome, at the time the largest in a German theatre. It had 2,000 upholstered seats with an electrical system which sent a message to the cashier when the seat was occupied, and a 150,000 Reichsmark Wurlitzer organ, at the time the largest in any European cinema, with sound effects including traffic noise and thunder.
In 1933, during the Nazi era, the Lichtburg’s operator, Karl Wolffsohn, a Jewish publisher and entrepreneur from Berlin, was forced to sell it for a tenth of its value to the Universum Film AG (UfA). He and his family fled to Palestine in 1939 and he did not live to see the end of his lawsuit for compensation. In 2006, a memorial plaque was placed on the building; Wolffsohn’s nephew, the historian Michael Wolffsohn, was present at the unveiling. He heads the Lichtburg-Stiftung (Lichtburg Foundation) in Berlin, whose projects include a German-Turkish-Jewish cultural centre. The Lichtburg’s main auditorium now seats 1,250 and is still the largest cinema auditorium in Germany.